Why, oh why, oh why…

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2006

… do I put myself through the weekly torment that is This Week? I remember when its quirky, jaunty take on the last 7 days at Westminster struck a deft balance between the serious and the light. Now it’s just wall-to-wall vapid, humourless inanities.

I actually quite like and respect Andrew Neil as a political interviewer (at least when he’s not trying too hard to be funny).

But Diane Abbot and Michael Portillo are utterly pointless. Semi-detached from their own parties, they represent only their own views – which seem to have drifted far away from any intellectual moorings. Neither has any pointful political existence beyond the programme, which means they think only as far ahead as the next edition. It makes for painfully shallow telly.

Watching it tonight – like some kind of sick puppy returning to its own vomit – I was struck by the antiquated futility of the Abbot/Portillo left-right oppositional schtick. It reminded me of the sublime Jon Stewart’s eloquent tirade against the US equivalent of This Week, CNN’s Crossfire. His Exocet lament – that the show’s theatrical, bipolar sniping was “hurting America” – was so devastating that Crossfire was cancelled soon after.

Now I don’t think the Beeb need go that far. There have been some memorable editions of This Week – usually when one or other of Abbot and Portillo has been absent. Ken Clarke, Robin Cook and Shirley Williams have all been stellar guests in their time: because they think/thought hard, and have/had something they want/wanted to say – and which was therefore worth hearing. (Inserting those past tenses still makes me sad.)

So let the BBC bring down the curtains on the Abbot and Portillo show, and try instead a new cast of three permanent guests. How about this trio of independent and intelligent MPs: Peter Kilfoyle (Labour), Ed Vaizey (Tory) and Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem)?